The University of New Mexico men's basketball team picked up a huge road win in its last game, but must protect home court on Sunday against UNLV if it wants to keep pace in the Mountain West standings.
New Mexico (14-14, 9-6 MW) outlasted Wyoming and won a 119-114 shootout over the Cowboys to sweep the season series and break what was a four-team tie for fourth place.
The Cowboys continued to provide the Lobos with some assistance, downing Fresno State to snap the Bulldogs' five-game winning streak. That result means UNM could move into a tie for third place in the MW standings with Fresno State, with a big matchup between the two schools looming in the season finale.
But in order for that to happen, the Lobos first need to take care of business against the Runnin' Rebels (19-9, 8-7 MW) as a loss could drop UNM right back into a four-way tie.
UNLV lost a close one at home in the Thomas & Mack Center the first time the teams met, falling 85-81 to the Lobos on Jan. 17. UNM capped an impressive come-from-behind victory after trailing by double digits with under seven minutes to play to earn its first road win of the season.
Head coach Paul Weir seemed concerned about the size and length of UNLV heading into Sunday's matchup, saying it would be the biggest challenge and his players need to play well against their "bigs" inside the paint.
UNLV junior forward Shakur Juiston punished the Lobos on the glass in the first meeting, gobbling up 14 rebounds and putting up 14 points along the way. A lot of his offensive work happened in the paint, where the Runnin' Rebels outscored the Lobos by a margin of 54-34.
But the 3-point line was an equalizer for UNM — the Lobos poured in 10 makes from downtown, while UNLV was horrendous, going just 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) from beyond the arc.
One of the best sharpshooters for the Lobos from 3-point land has been junior guard Anthony Mathis. He has shot 50 percent or better in each of his last six games and is 51.9 percent in conference play from the land of plenty — which is actually higher that his overall field goal percentage.
His shooting has been a major contributor to the Lobos' rise in the conference standings and could help the team earn a first round bye in the conference tournament if it continues to win. But the team doesn't appear to be looking ahead — Mathis said securing one of the top five seeds would be nice, but he and his teammates have their sights set solely on UNLV.
The Lobos will likely have their hands full with 7-footer Brandon McCoy down low. He leads the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game and has been proficient on the boards as well, collecting 10.1 rebounds per contest.
UNM has five players that have achieved double-digit scoring averages in conference play, led by Mathis' 16.1 points per game.
UNLV holds the edge in head-to-head meetings with a 33-26 record, but New Mexico holds a 13-12 advantage at home — though the Rebels did win in Albuquerque last season.
Sunday's matchup is scheduled to tip-off at noon with the game being aired on CBS Sports Network and carried on 770 KKOB-AM Lobo Radio Network.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.